National Rail Security
June 25, 2007
A few words from our National Legislative Director Rick Hind:
On March 27th, the U.S. House of Representative voted 299 to 124 for a rail security bill (H.R. 1401). The bill included an amendment by Representative Edward Markey (D-MA) to re-route ultra-hazardous cargoes, such as chlorine gas, around high threat urban areas. This bill was scheduled to go to a "Conference Committee" where the House and Senate would iron out differences between their bills. However, on June 26th Senate Republicans blocked efforts to bring the bill to Committee which will delay any further action until at least after the 4th of July recess.
If the House bill is accepted it will represent a giant step toward eliminating the risks these rail cars represent to densely populated areas. In addition to re-routing, H.R. 1401 limits the storage on rails of these chemicals in populous areas. Later this year Congress will take the next step in moving legislation to require chemical plants to convert to safer chemicals so that toxic cargo will not be shipped anywhere.
The good news is that these toxic cargoes represent only 0.3% of freight rail. However, the railroads are one of the most vulnerable domestic sectors to terrorist attacks. In 2003 the FBI warned, “You’ve heard about sarin and other chemical weapons in the news. But it’s far easier to attack a rail car full of toxic industrial chemicals than it is to compromise the security of a military base and obtain these materials.”
In the last six months dozens of people have been killed in terrorists attacks in Iraq using chlorine gas. The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory estimates that more than 100,000 people could be killed or injured within the first 30 minutes of a terrorist attack on one rail car of chlorine or similar chemical cargo passing through a major city such as Washington, D.C. They warned that “lethally exposed people can die at the rate of 100 per second.”
Almost six years after the 9/11 attacks Congress should act today to send the House re-routing bill to the President and he should be urged to sign it as soon as it arrives on his desk.